The machine breaks down
The vaunted political clout of the teachers’ unions might be collapsing under the weight of their own arrogance.
No one was surprised when bureaucrats at Minnesota’s Department of Education recently flouted two rounds of public comment and doubled down on its radical overhaul of social studies standards for the state’s schools. “Ideology has replaced the basic factual knowledge students need to be informed citizens,” concludes Katherine Kersten, American Experiment’s senior policy fellow. You can read her analysis on page 16 and even more at AmericanExperiment.org.
This represents just another example of why I believe Big Education’s inability to repress the influence of its most radical members will ultimately force them onto a collision course with public opinion.
Big Education in Minnesota would do well to heed a couple lessons from November’s off-year election for governor in Virginia. When voters in the Commonwealth chose underdog Glenn Youngkin as their new governor, they did more than merely reject the chaotic progressive nonsense that’s been spewing across the Potomac River from neighboring Washington, D.C. Many, many Virginians across the political spectrum used their vote to reject the closed-minded radical curriculum that public school teachers want to impose on their students. Parents and voters repeatedly called on school districts to consult them before accepting or rejecting those lesson plans.
The game-changing lesson, though less widely reported, is how blind allegiance to Big Education hurt the campaign of Terry McAuliffe, the stunned loser. McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor who’d long been heavily favored to recapture his office, built a campaign that stood aggressively alongside his teachers. At a critical campaign debate in which Youngkin highlighted parents’ displeasure at what’s being taught in Virginia’s classrooms, McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” And he used subsequent campaign days to repeat that sentiment.
I believe McAuliffe’s strategy cost him the election, but not because it roused a conservative reaction against him. Hardly. Conservative voters were already primed to vote overwhelmingly against him. It was education-based independent voters that appear to have cost him another term in the governor’s mansion. Exit polling from CBS showed that Youngkin held a 57-43 margin among voters who agreed that parents should have a say in what their child’s school teaches. And these were not solely conservatives. Just 34 percent of respondents in that same exit poll self-identified as Republicans.
Minnesotans agree. Our recent Thinking Minnesota poll reveals that a whopping 69 percent of respondents believe public schools should be required to make all learning materials available on their websites so parents can see what’s being taught to their children.
These factors should be a glass of ice water thrown into the faces of political candidates who blindly accept the Big Ed agenda.
Let me tell you why. Anyone even remotely interested in Minnesota politics understands how the teachers have used the past 50 years of elections in Minnesota to build a hardnosed political machine that is just as effective as anything in the backroom wards of urban Chicago.
The source of their success is, first and foremost, that they own their issue. Over the 45 years that I’ve surveyed the political landscape, Minnesotans have regularly told pollsters that “education” is a top priority. We love our kids (and grandkids and neighborhood kids) and we want what’s best for them. Big Ed skillfully manipulates this emotion by portraying their agenda, always about public money, as being for The Children. Their public playbook assesses the performance of policymakers by how much money they are willing to throw at education.
And this message is consistently sanctioned by adoring coverage in the media. When was the last time you have read, heard, or watched any news report that’s even faintly critical of the education establishment (other than from us or Alpha News)? I have always assumed reporters are political fellow travelers who view the world through the same lens as teachers. (The Children, after all.) Big Ed similarly engulfs the pages of cash-strapped community newspapers that can’t afford experienced reporters and can’t risk alienating the schools, their prime source of local news.
Big Ed’s death-grip on policymakers has been just as muscular, both at the ballot box and in the legislature. Teachers comprise the largest single-issue grassroots organization in our political landscape. They are fiercely organized and show no mercy when shutting down dissident voices. (And, we’re told, this includes the growing number of fellow teachers who reject the radical classroom dogma but who fear internal reprisals.) They spend a ton of money and can blanket the capital with an army of lobbyists on a moment’s notice. Even some conservative legislators cower at the power of Big Ed, while others merely surrender to the ultimate futility of even trying.
At the local level, Big Ed has helped rig the timing of education-related elections to “off-off” years, when voters likely to enact their candidates/proposals will be most motivated to vote. They regularly elect slates of school board candidates who will rubber-stamp just about any- thing they want. The extent of their unchallenged overreach has become absurd: Four of the six members of the White Bear Lake school board, for example, are now teachers, whose primary responsibility will be to negotiate contracts with teachers. Does anyone else think there is something wrong with this picture?
Pretty dire, eh? Not anymore. I described Big Ed’s power merely to show the source of their overconfidence. The experience of Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe (and our own polling) exposes how their recent fixation on forcing radical social doctrine into their classrooms might just cause Big Ed to collapse under the weight of their own arrogance.
Remember: the linchpin of Big Ed’s success has been through exploiting public sympathies for The Children. A curriculum built on Critical Race Theory (whether or not they call it that) has nothing to do with The Children. The teachers have forgotten that community support for children does not necessarily transcend into support for them. Their new priority is about using The Children to indoctrinate a new mirror-image generation of unthinking ideologues.
From my perch, education is the single most important issue facing Minnesota policymakers at virtually every level, down to and (especially) including school boards. Leadership from Center of the American Experiment and others will help Minnesota voters organize to help teachers use their classrooms to develop students into thinking, fair-minded, discerning adults, not angry, closed-minded political automata.
Our grassroots effort helped direct more than 22,000 comments to the educrats at Minnesota’s Department of Education about their standards, none of which approved of the policies. Our published analyses from policy fellows Katherine Kersten and Catrin Wigfall provide a continual intellectual repudiation of Big Ed’s curriculum. Our “Raise Our Standards” website constantly updates interested Minnesotans on current analysis and events related to curriculum issues. On top of that, we have hosted 22 town meetings across the state that enabled concerned Minnesotans to vent their frustration with the radical takeover of their local schools. And we hosted a one-day training symposium that taught the perils of curriculum oversight to school board candidates.
I expect the backlash against radical curriculum to grow, in part because Big Ed will trigger it. Their DNA shows no capacity for self-examination or for backing down. They aren’t used to losing. They never lose. They seem to exist in a private echo chamber of self-congratulation in which they tell each other how “right” they are and, more importantly, how their opposition is wrong (no, make that “evil”).
Until now, their strategies never really have had to endure public scrutiny. I have a feeling they are about to.